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Tom Roberts: Shearing the rams 1890


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When Tom Roberts painted Shearing the rams, he wanted to create a painting that would represent Australian life. His image of men hard at work in a shearing station has endured since as a symbol of iconic national values like hard work and mateship, and of the characters who live and work in country Australia.

How have these things changed in the century-plus since the painting’s creation in 1890? We’ll look at how the nature of work has evolved with the advent of new technologies, the changing role and power of unionism, and at the changing face of the rural Australian workforce with successive waves of migration.

Michael Varcoe-Cocks, head of conservation at the National Gallery of Victoria, will lead by talking about the artwork itself, placing it in context.

Arts advocate Esther Anatolitis, director of Regional Arts Victoria, will talk about the clubbish, closed shed of the painting’s Anglo-Australian workforce, introducing the perspective of migrants.

Dave Oliver, secretary of the ACTU, will talk about the role and power of unionism.

Dr Hugh Bradlow, head of innovation at Telstra, will discuss the massive shifts in technological development between the era of this painting and today’s heavily mechanised world.

And to close, comedy performer Gillian Cosgriff will write and perform a song about the work.

Australian Art Starting Conversations

Certain timeless works of art make us see the world differently. By experiencing famous paintings or sculptures, we can form an idea of what life was like when they were created.

But how much can iconic art teach us about the world today? Taking four historical works as a starting point, our guests make a series of lateral leaps to explore the diversity of the modern world through the prism of classic art.

After a curator from the National Gallery of Victoria places the work in context, three different speakers will explore the tangents that arise, leading the discussion surrounding the piece in new and unexpected directions. The evening concludes with a creative response directly inspired by the artwork itself.

Please enter through the North entrance, via Arts Centre Melbourne forecourt.

Presented by the Wheeler Centre and the NGV.


Simon Abrahams

Simon Abrahams is a strategic arts and cultural leader, dynamic programmer and experienced producer whose work has been recognised nationally and internationally. He is Chair of Theatre Network Victoria, and a freelance arts consultant and performer. Previously, Simon served as the Wheeler Centre’... Read more

Hugh Bradlow

Hugh S. Bradlow is Chief Technology Officer for Telstra and is responsible for investigating the future technologies that will impact Telstra’s business. Prior to joining Telstra in September 1995, Professor Bradlow was Professor of Computer Engineering at the University of Wollongong in Australia... Read more

Michael Varcoe-Cocks

Michael Varcoe-Cocks is Head of Conservation at the National Gallery of Victoria.

His area of specialist practise focusses on paintings produced between 1850-1900 and in recent years undertook the restoration of Tom Robert Shearing the Rams 1890.

Dave Oliver

Dave Oliver is the Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the National Secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union. After leaving school in 1977, Dave began his working life as 15 year old apprentice at JR Simpson Engineering in Botany, NSW. On completing his trade as a ... Read more

Esther Anatolitis

Esther Anatolitis is the Editor of Meanjin and one of Australia’s most influential advocates for arts and culture. She is Hon A/Prof at RMIT School of Art and a member of the National Gallery of Australia Governing Council. Across two decades Esther has led arts and media organisations across all ... Read more

Gillian Cosgriff

Gillian Cosgriff is a singer, songwriter, pianist and performer. After graduating from WAAPA in 2010 with a Bachelor of Music Theatre, Gillian wrote her debut show, Waitressing…And Other Things I Do Well, which played to sellout crowds in Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane. She also recorde... Read more


Clemenger BBDO Auditorium, NGV International

180 St Kilda Road Melbourne Victoria 3000

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